Gates / Perquimans E-911 move towards consolidation

Published 4:41 pm Thursday, February 22, 2024

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GATESVILLE – Plans are moving forward to transition the Gates County E-911 Communications Center operations into a consolidated system with Perquimans County.

That consolidated system will operate in the town of Hertford at the Perquimans County E-911 Center.

The boards of commissioners in each county have taken the appropriate steps to expedite the process.

At a special called meeting on Sunday afternoon, the Gates County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution that called for the merger of its E-911 Communications Center as a regional partner with Perquimans County or other entities. The resolution also directed Gates County officials to support this transition with the appropriate planning and budget preparation.

At their work session on Monday night, the Perquimans County Board of Commissioners formed a consensus to discuss terms and draft a consolidation agreement with Gates County E-911.

This latest development comes after Gates County E-911 fell out of compliance with North Carolina E-911 Board due to staffing shortages and because of incomplete paperwork. That marks the second time that Gates County E-911 found itself out of state compliance. The first occurred in December 2021 due to staffing shortages and equipment malfunction.

In both instances, Gates County officials had to transfer its E-911 operations to Perquimans County. The latest transfer took place on Feb. 9 where Perquimans took over receiving and dispatching all 9-1-1 calls from Gates County per an interlocal agreement forged between the two counties on Jan. 19, 2022. That agreement, upon activation, is good for 90 days.

The most recent situation with the Gates County E-911 Center manifested itself upon the resignation of its director on Feb. 2. That was followed by the resignations of the Center’s supervisors on Feb. 3 and Feb. 9 respectively. Also on Feb. 9, three full-time telecommunicators resigned.

“With no director, no full-time supervisors or telecommunicators remaining, our E-911 Center was functionally non-compliant with state requirements,” said Gates County Manager Scott Sauer at Sunday’s meeting.

That led to a Feb. 12 meeting in Hertford between officials with both counties along with Pokey Harris, State E-911 Board Director. There the focus was on providing uninterrupted emergency 911 responses and support for citizens of both counties.

Meanwhile, the State E-911 Board gave Gates County 30 days to bring its E-911 Center into compliance. Sauer stressed that is nearly impossible due to the lack of certified telecommunicator leadership and staffing.

Faced with that fact, the Gates County Commissioners realized there was only one course of action to take.

“It’s been clearly laid out what has happened. I don’t see any other solution but to consolidate with Perquimans,” said Commissioner Linda Hofler at Sunday’s meeting.

Commissioner Emily Truman, who worked in the past as a Gates County E-911 dispatcher, was very emotional when talking about the issue.

“In my objective opinion, because I can’t listen to my emotional opinion, I feel the best thing is to consolidate with Perquimans,” Truman said tearfully. “My heart wants to push forward [to have E-911 back in Gates County], but the word non-compliant is on the forefront of conversations. It’s a term we cannot deny with the current state of our county’s E-911.

“We have to have staff to work and at this time we don’t have that staff, and this isn’t the first time that has happened,” Truman continued. “The citizens of Gates County deserve peace when it comes to having confidence in E-911 and first responder services as a whole. Regardless if the E-911 Center is in Gates County or in a consolidated center in Perquimans, when someone calls from Gates County the phone will be answered by a fully staffed center in Perquimans.”

Dr. Althea Riddick, chair of the Gates County Commissioners, said she has first-hand knowledge that 9-1-1 calls placed from Gates County and answered in Perquimans County works without a hitch. At 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Riddick said her sister-in-law’s house, who lives next door on US 158, was on fire.

“Ten fire trucks came and they were each dispatched to the scene by Perquimans. Those firefighters saved that house. I saw first-hand that the dispatch system works,” Riddick stressed.

“Yes, we would like for our E-911 center to stay here, but we’ve got to look long term and do what’s best for the future of Gates County,” she added. “We have to make sure than when someone calls 9-1-1 they get the service they need. I’m confident this board will make a decision based on what’s best for the public safety and health of all of our citizens.”

Jonathan Craddock, the board’s vice chairman, spoke at length regarding all the state statutes that apply to the operation of a county’s E-911 center. He also referenced the first time that staffing issues, along with equipment malfunctions, forced Gates County to move its communications center to Perquimans. At that time he said the county spent $120,000 for equipment upgrades in its E-911 Center.

“People worked so hard to get things fixed and in place, but for some reason we have a tough time maintaining it,” Craddock noted. “I don’t know why. Now here we are, February 2024, and we’re out of compliance again with paperwork and lack of staff. After all the resignations there’s not a whole lot more you can do.

“Speaking as a citizen, I would like to see our E-911 Center remain here,” Craddock continued, “but as a county commissioner I have to do what’s best for 10,481 citizens of Gates County. Our 911 Center has been out of compliance twice in a little over two years. Will it happen again. Odds are, yes it will. I will not allow for that to happen again. Our citizens deserve to pick up the phone and call 9-1-1 and have someone to answer,”

With that, Craddock motioned to adopt the resolution. Hofler offered a second and the motion was approved by a 5-0 vote.

Sauer said the next steps in the process will involve ongoing discussions with Perquimans County Manager Frank Heath.

“The interlocal agreement we have in place right now is good for 90 days, which gives us time to iron out all the details on the consolidation of the two E-911 centers,” Sauer said.

Details of what costs Gates County will incur with the consolidation are not yet finalized. The county’s current FY 2023-24 operating budget lists $587,393 for Telecommunications.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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